Title: The Man in the Iron Mask
Author: Alexandre Dumas
Narrator: Simon Vance
Publication Year: 1847 (this audio version: 2010)
Pages: 656 (audio length: 22 hours 8 minutes)
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com
From the cover:
Following The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After, Dumas continued his D’Artagnan romances with a final trilogy [The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Louise de la Valliere, The Man in the Iron Mask] set during the reign of Louis XIV.
The Man in the Iron Mask is the swashbuckling conclusion to Dumas’s musketeer saga and pits the brave band of heroes against each other in a power struggle that could change the face of the French monarchy.
Thirty-five years after the events of The Three Musketeers, D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis find themselves caught between conflicting loyalties in a power struggle that could change the face of the French monarchy.
For eight long years, a young prisoner has languished within the dreaded Bastille, his face hidden in an iron mask. He knows neither his true identity nor the crime for which he has been imprisoned. But Aramis knows this secret — a secret so dangerous, it could topple the King from his throne! Will his cause divide the once indivisible band of musketeers?
A tale of mystery, adventure, and political intrigue, this conclusion to Dumas’s swashbuckling musketeer saga is based on the true story of a masked prisoner who dwelled in the Bastille during Louis XIV’s reign and whose identity remains in question to this day.
Strangely enough, this was actually the first book in the series that I read. I somehow hadn’t realized that the books were actually chronological rather than just thematically-related, and so I didn’t notice that it mattered. It was only after I read this book that I went back to the beginning of the series and started from there.
Having said that, it was still entirely possible to understand – and enjoy – The Man in the Iron Mask without having read the other books. There is a sense that you don’t know the full depth and breadth of the relationship between the musketeers since you don’t know details about their past escapades, and occasionally also those of the other main characters, but it wasn’t as much of a hindrance as you might expect. It definitely might help you remember all the different names and titles, though, if you’ve been following them along from the beginning.
What this book does really well is the intrigue and the ways that each of the characters respond to each others’ participation in the events of the book. It was far more complex than I had been expecting from an adventure series, which was good. In the end, though, I thought that the plot line regarding the title character was a little flat. For such a long book, I was surprised that this character appeared so little and was in and out of the narrative quite quickly, leaving Dumas to mostly tell the story of the aftermath. Also, while I’m not one of those people who always wants a happy ending, I felt that The Man in the Iron Mask, as the end of such a great series, was a little bit too pessimistic in the end. Although perhaps it’s a sign of the times in which it was written and whatever social commentary Dumas was trying to make.
As usual, Simon Vance did a fantastic job narrating. Since this was the first book I had listened to in the series, it was really helpful to me to hear the distinctions he made between characters’ voices, speech patterns, and cadences – it helped me to keep them apart. I particularly enjoyed his depiction of Porthos.
If you’ve made it this far in the series, pick up The Man in the Iron Mask. It’s not my favourite one of the installments, but I still enjoyed it enough to recommend that you finish out the series.